How Search Reporting Misleads Marketers

To see how a particular element of your online marketing program is performing, you likely turn to your most recent reporting. But what if your measurement is wrong?

When online marketing reporting is based on the most recent click (which is the standard across most solutions), your reporting will be inflated for any marketing that reaches your audience shortly before they buy, register or sign-up.

The end result? You make the wrong marketing decisions.

There are a number of marketing activities that benefit from this inflation, here we will look at the one that often receives the most misplaced credit for results:

The Primary Offender: Search Marketing

Today search receives a disproportionate share of credit for marketing results and has claimed a significant share of marketing budgets. However, search is not purely a research and acquisition channel. Search captures credit from other marketing programs in two ways:

  1. Search as a response channel: People searching for your brand, your campaign or your products already know you. They are turning to search as a way to respond to marketing, a peer recommendation or another influence. Search is simply facilitating the response.
  2. Search as navigation: People do not only search for information, search is also a way to navigate. There are 45.5 million US Google searches for “Google” and an additional 6.1 million for “” every month. More than 50 million times a month, people are using Google to navigate to Google. (For search geeks, yes, those are exact match volumes).

In either case, when a user clicks on a search result, search becomes the most recent click, inflating results from search and potentially lowering the reported results from other marketing activity.

Correcting for the Bias

Marketers can take two steps to improve this bias in search reporting.

  1. Look at non-brand search: Ensure your search campaign is split between brand terms (including products, campaigns, services and other terms that could be capturing a response or a navigation) and non-brand terms. Non-brand terms are the primary acquisition element of your campaign, brand terms capture credit from other marketing programs.
  2. Look in measurement silos: This is one area where siloed reporting is helpful. When siloed reporting is higher for an activity than integrated reporting, it shows that another part of marketing is claiming credit by driving a later click. The best way to do this is through a platform that can look at the same data and apply the same reporting rules with and without search included.

In Summary

Search is getting credited in acquisition programs for activity it isn’t causing. Marketers need to understand the real impact of all marketing activity, including search, in order to make the right investment decisions.

When you correct for the inflation in search results, search will still be a strong acquisition channel for most marketers, but you will have a clearer picture of search’s contribution and the contribution from other marketing activity.

Search isn’t alone in benefiting at the expense of other marketing. We will look at how other elements of online marketing take credit for results they didn’t drive in the coming weeks.

Photo Credit: Money by AMagill on Flickr

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